How can I just compose a song

5 ideas on how to create melodies

Inventing melodies on the guitar in five steps

Tips and tricks for writing melodies with the guitar

(Image: @ Shutterstock, From: Africa Studio)

Usually composers sit with a quill pen on an ivory grand piano with a glass of red wine until they are kissed by the muse and the finished songs pour out of your fingers as if by magic. This or something like that is the common perception of many non-musicians when they imagine how songs are created. The reality is usually completely different, because writing songs and melodies can be a lengthy process that is often associated with tough work.

Much of what one assumes from the outside as pure creativity and inspiration is often simply craft. For example, a film composer cannot wait for inspiration to come when the cinema premiere is already in sight. So today I would like to show you a few little tricks and techniques with which you can come up with new melodies in case the inspiration should fail.

1. Find a good balance between second steps and arpeggio intervals

First of all, you should think about what makes a good melody in the first place. If you look at catchy song lines, you will notice that they often form a good balance between scale steps, be it large or small seconds, and arpeggios or their excerpts, such as third or fourth steps.

This is the case with folk songs, but also pop evergreens such as "Obladi-Oblada" by the Beatles:

Now I'll try my own example in which I specifically combine scales and arpeggio excerpts. Everything here is a question of balance, but with a little practice very singable lines can emerge:

2. Assign letters

This trick may seem a bit mundane, but it can produce amazing results. To do this, you take a scale, in this case C major, and assign a letter in the alphabet to each note. When the scale is over, you just start over:

A.B.C.D.E.F.GHI.JKL.M.NOP.QR.S.TUV.W.XYZ
C.D.E.F.GA.B.C.D.E.F.GA.B.C.D.E.F.GA.B.C.D.E.F.G

Now you choose a word, such as "Bonedo". Since each letter in this word corresponds to a note, we get the tone sequence: d-c-b-g-f-c.

You can now rhythmise them freely or octave them, for example as follows:

Of course, you can use any key and any scale, including their modes, as a basis or transpose them!

3. Use motif processing tricks

The good Johann Sebastian Bach showed us how to do it: Every melody or every motif can be edited, both in terms of the sequence of notes and the rhythm.

Since doubling or halving the note values ​​(augmentation, diminution) leaves the melody largely unaffected in its sound, we concentrate on the melodic processing and arrive at three different variations:

1. Cancer (retrograde): The motif is simply played backwards; Reflection on the x-axis

2. The inversion: If a pitch went up a second, it now goes down a second, in the original it goes down a third, then in the reverse it goes up a third, etc .; Reflection on the y-axis

3. The reverse cancer (retrograde inversion): The cancer of the reversal, or the reversal of the cancer

As a motif variation, I decide in the following for the "cancer" as an example, i.e. I play the melody backwards. Strictly speaking, I would have to take over the rhythm, but I allow myself the freedom to rhythmise it as I think it makes sense. Feel free to try out different variants and motif variations.

In the following example you hear the melody of the Beatles classic "Hey Jude" first forwards and then backwards, but with a new rhythm:

4. Sing melodies

As simple as this trick is, it leads you straight to the heart of your musical imagination.

To do this, you take a chord progression or just a single chord and simply sing the first melody that occurs to you above this chord. This can be a four-tone motif or a longer line.

The advantage of this method is that it often results in lines that are actually, how could it be otherwise, "singable", and that is what a strong melody should be: singable and memorable!

With our instrument we are too often tempted to play things that are good in our hands and then the fingers make the music, but not our hearing or our inner voice. Apart from that, it is only with the instrument that you sometimes come across motifs that cover a far too wide range for a vocalist to be able to sing.

By singing, it can be on "La" or just hummed, we get access to what we really hear in our imagination, and that is usually more authentic!

5. Set the option tone as the start tone

Singing the melody leads us straight to the next task, in which we consciously limit our options a bit, because now we set a starting tone for our melody above a certain chord.

For the beginning there are scale tones, which at least give us at least seven possible notes to start the melody. Simpler melodies often start on arpeggio tones, i.e. if our harmony is C major, one often finds c, e and g as the starting note. But where does the line lead us when we start on an a or an f #?

Here you will find a few possible starting tones above a C major chord, which you should test all individually to let the different sound affect you:

C.Keynote, obvious
D.None, a little more colorful
EbBluesy sound
E.Major third, obvious
F.Quarte, needs to be resolved
F ## 11, Lydian, full of tension
GFifth, obvious
A.Sixth, colored
PortMinor seventh, Mixolydian, bluesy
B.Major seventh, colorful, full of tension

With these tips I hope you enjoy writing your melodies!